Clearly, I Didn’t Think it Through


Oh, what was I thinking? What the hell on earth was I thinking?

Since I spend so much time at home with toddlers, there are moments when the house feels way, way, way too small. The toys seem to all pile up in one place, and the running around in circles starts to feel just a little bit claustrophobic.

I guess that’s why, in a moment of mental weakness and overwhelming crankiness, Nonni here got the brilliant idea of cleaning out the basement and making it into an additional play space.

Oh, smart old Nonni! Won’t it be lovely when you can send the kids downstairs to play with the doll strollers, the blocks, the climbing structure and the awesome interconnected tunnels?

The kids and I spent a full week organizing, cleaning, moving stuff around and setting up a toybox.

Oh, joy! Oh, rapture!

What a fun, warm, wide open playroom we’ve created! Hoo-rah!

So.

The kids now play in the spare bedroom (lovingly referred to as the “nappy room”), in the kitchen, in the living room and dining room AND in the basement playroom.

How freeing to have more room.

I’m not kidding. When things get a little tense, and the kids can’t seem to agree on one single thing, it can be miraculous to have a whole new place to fight…..I mean, “to play”…..There are new items to fight over, new games to invent and play, new furniture to jump on.

But if you are reading this little memo, you might already have found the flaw in my ingenious plan.

Right?

Right.

If one child is in the living room, deeply involved in pretending to be a dragon, at least one other child is in the basement. Nonni, for all her marvelous nurturing powers, can only be in one place at a time.

Ergo: wherever I am at any given moment, there is a tiny person with the lungs of a town crier in the other space. And that child will be shrieking “NONNI!!!!” so piercingly that it’s a wonder the cops haven’t been called.

I swear to you, sometimes I’m sure my ears are going to bleed.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of the challenges I face.

Today my sweet Ellie was in the dining room, playing with a nice tray full of kinetic sand. Johnny decided to head into the basement playroom to “Play Rescue Riders”. I was washing dishes.

Suddenly, I heard a death shriek from the basement. “NONNI! HELP! COME NOW!” I dropped the waffle dish in my hand and ran toward the basement.

Aaaannnnnnd, at the very same moment……”NONNI! COME HERE!” Ellie called from the dining room. I ran down the stairs, yelling over my shoulder, “Wait, Ellie! Hang on!” I threw open the playroom door, ready to grab Johnny and head for the Emergency Room. I swear, my phone was in my hand, all ready to call 911.

And there he was, sitting calmly on the old sofa in the playroom, a plastic box in his hands. “You help me open dis?” he asked.

Once my heart stopped scrambling around in my chest, I opened his box and said, as sternly as I could, “John, do NOT scream like that unless you are hurt! If you need me, come upstairs and get me.”

“OK!” he grinned cheerfully.

I trudged back upstairs, to where Ellie had been reduced to sobs and had not stopped chanting, “Nonni, come here. Nonni, come here. Nonni, come here……..”

“OK,” I think I sounded reasonably calm. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I wanted to show you what I made.”

I looked at her creation, told her that it was fabulous, then repeated my message. “You can’t scream for me like that, honey. Not unless you are hurt. If you need me, come get me.”

Yeah.

Sure.

The message apparently was never received because this afternoon our friend Bel came to spend an hour or so with us. Her visits are totally the highlight of every week. We all love her to bits. Bel is, like Ellie, four years old. She is funny, sweet, creative, kind and energetic.

She also has the voice of an operatic soprano trying out for her first solo aria. The girl can etch glass with that voice.

And so by the end of today I found myself racing from room to room, from one floor to the next, answering shrill cries of “NONNI!” They seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

Now I’m not a newbie. This childcare gig is not my first time around the manipulative toddler block. I know that 9 times out of 10 the screams don’t mean severed limbs.

But. These are not my kids. Neurotic old woman that I am, I am not quite prepared to ignore the ear piercing shrieks of little children.

Holy fatigue, Batman.

So.

I have a new plan.

I’m thinking that from now on, the kids and I will enjoy our days safely closed in one room. The smallest room I can find. I’ll lock the door and keep us all within each other’s eyesight.

That way when someone screams “HELP! NONNI, HELP ME!” I will immediately recognize that the problem is a doll’s sock and not an invasion of zombies.

And I will hopefully prevent the impending heart attack.

The Sunset of Life


Beautiful, peaceful sunset

My mother is in the sunset of her life.

She is 89 years old, and lives alone in the house where she and our Dad raised six children. Where my siblings and I learned to walk, talk, cook, read, play the drums, play baseball, take turns, rake the leaves……

She is in our home place.

Mom has no intention of leaving that home place, not until she has breathed her final breath. This is her home. Her kitchen. Her bedroom.

I get it.

But today I had one of those conversations with Mom that make me stiffen up and shake and want to argue.

You see, my Mom has some type of dementia. We haven’t bothered to go through the evaluations and tests that would give us a definitive diagnosis, because what would be the point?

We know that Mom has lost her short term memory. We know that she can’t recall the key details of her past, or of ours. We realize that no matter how deeply she loves us all, the details of our lives continue to elude her.

When I visit Mom each week, we talk about my children. She remembers that I have three kids, but confuses the details. She remembers that my daughter has children (two of her four her great-grandchildren) but she might ask me ten time in an hour if those children are girls or boys.

For the most part, these repeating stories are fine for me. I understand. Mom’s memory no longer works reliably. I know that she doesn’t remember the names of her grandchildren’s spouses without a prompt.

I’m always OK with that. I repeat things for her, patiently, feeling good about myself as a daughter.

But.

But then.

A moment will occur where Mom forgets some key memory from my relationship with her. “You came to the hospital to meet my first baby, ” I will say. Mom will jump in then,

“I remember! It was a boy and you had to stay in bed, so you couldn’t see him.”

My heart will race, my brain will screech, and I will carefully but firmly tell her, “NO. My first baby was Katie, remember? You came to see her at the hospital! Dad was with you.”

When she doesn’t remember that poignant moment, my heart will sink.

I know that my mom loves me, and that she loves my kids and theirs. I know this deep in my bones.

And yet, when I tell her something that seems important, and she changes the details, I feel betrayed and forgotten.

I want my Momma to remember our best times. I want her to remember how close we were, but I also want her to remember how much we fought. These are the key threads of my life; and they all involve her. I need to recognize those threads.

Today I visited Mom. I made her some soup, and helped her to feed her cat and clean out the litter box. I checked to see what groceries she’d need. I put lotion on the dry skin on her back, my hand gently rubbing in a circle, just as she’d done for me when I was a child.

Today I asked my Mom what she wanted to drink with her lunch of homemade minestrone. As she often does, Mom looked at me with a sparkle in her dark brown eyes. “How about a nice dry martini?” she asked with a grin. We both laughed.

But then she went on to tell me how fun it was when I first introduced her to martinis. “Remember?” she coaxed, “You made us both extra dry gin martinis! That was my very first martini!”

This is, of course, not at all what happened. In fact, my Mom had been a once-in-a-while martini drinker for years. She had learned about the famous cocktail back in the 50’s, when I was newly born. She used to tell me hilarious stories about getting together with the neighbors or her sisters-in-law and enjoying one too many martinis.

When my Dad died, and I started to spend one night at week at Mom’s house, we sometimes drank a vodka martini before dinner.

Her memory was a happy smooshing of both of these truths.

For me, her story came with pain.

I wanted to correct her. “No!” I wanted to say, “You taught ME about martinis!”

But Mom wasn’t having it. While she generally admits that her memory has lapses, this time she was adamant. She told, and retold, a story of the two of us making “extra dry gin martinis” in her kitchen. She was delighted with the memory.

“I think we got a little silly, didn’t we?” she asked with a laugh.

And oh, how I wanted to correct her.

But then I remembered what families of patients with dementia are told. “Don’t correct them. Those memories are real for them.” I took a breath. I nodded and tried out a smile.

Mom took both of my hands in hers. I felt the tender, brittle bones of her fingers in mine.

“Wasn’t that fun?” she asked.

And I realized that while my mother’s memory was a false one, it was also lovely, and happy and filled with her love for me. She had created a shared moment that hadn’t really existed.

But it didn’t matter. She held my hands, and looked at me with gratitude and love. I kissed her cheek, and then we went into the kitchen to eat our soup.

“Let’s Pretend…..”


Once upon a time, when I was young, I loved to pretend. I loved to imagine that I was someone other the same old boring me. With just those words, “Let’s pretend,” my old bike turned into a wild stallion, and my suburban streets were instantly the wild and dusty west.

I remember, so well, those hours spent riding our horses across the west, racing to get to the next pioneer outpost.

“Let’s pretend,” I’d say, and my best friend would turn into Paul McCartney’s sister. We’d grab tennis racket guitars and hair brush mics and take off on our own version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

There was a time when I slipped easily from reality to pretend and back again.

But let’s be honest. Those days were more than a half century in my past.

It isn’t so easy to shed my rigid old skin these days. When there’s laundry to fold, dishes to wash and emails to check, it’s really hard to jump into the world of fantasy.

But you know what?

Sometimes it’s worth it to ignore the dryer, let the dishes soak and tell the messages to wait.

Because I spend all day with my toddler grandchildren, I have at least 700 chances every day to relive my childhood.

Today was one of those days, where both of my grandkids were completely invested in playing “Rescue Riders.” We try not to watch too much TV, but when we do turn it on, this show is one of our favorites. It has brave kids, funny dragons, simple problems and lots of bright colors.

God help me, I have even heard myself making comments like, ‘Burple wouldn’t fight the Slinkwings.’ as we discuss the latest episode.

So what could I do when Ellie turned those huge brown eyes on me, and said, “We’re playing Rescue Riders! You are Chief Duggar!”

I pretended to be the Chief, of course. Ellie was one dragon, Johnny another. We raced around the house, shouting things like, “Oh, no!!! I’m caught in a cave with Elbone!” and “Winger is getting sick with the Dreaded Dragon Flu!”

Maybe it was because it’s been a tough week, but I had to throw myself fully into my role. It could have come from a desire to prevent the two year old from belting the four year old. Perhaps I was hoping to stop the four year old from whining and sobbing at every move made by the two year old.

Or maybe the laundry and dishes and bills and news alerts and school shootings and impeachments had Nonni feeling like she just wasn’t up to facing reality today. Whatever the cause, I found myself free to throw myself fully into the pretending and the fantasy roles.

It was fairly exhausting, to tell you the truth. After a while I was getting a definite headache.

But then “Chief Duggar” got trapped in a cave, and I found myself hiding in a closet. I heard the “Rescue Riders” searching all through the house and found myself in the darkness, behind the coats and shirts, trying not to giggle.

When at last the two little dragons found me, and opened the door to my “cave,” all three of us burst into the kind of honest, deep, belly laughing joy that rarely happens in the life of an older lady. We laughed so hard that we were crying.

I found myself sitting on my guest room floor, with a laughing little one in each arm. I kissed those sweet, sweet heads and pulled them in against me.

I have no doubt that at some point tomorrow my back will ache from hiding, my foot will hurt from running, and I will be heartily sick of pretending.

Still.

It was worth it.

It was so so so worth it.

As I head off to bed tonight, I’m going to try to remember the feel of riding that stallion across the wild west.

Toddlerhood Ain’t For Sissies


I know that most people think childhood is just one big party. You get to sleep a lot, watch cartoons, be carried around whenever you get tired. There are all those toys, crayons, dress up clothes.

Sounds sweet, right?

Most people I talk to think that the hardest thing about toddlers is having to take are of them.

And as an aging woman who takes of 2 or 3 toddlers every day, I understand.

But here’s what I have been thinking about lately.

It is no picnic to be a kid between the ages of 1 and 5. I get to see, up close and personal, how much stress there is on those little toddlers.

Think about this:

When you’re a little kid, you have almost no control over the world you inhabit. You can’t get your own food when you’re hungry. If one of the grownups in your life finally agrees that you can have a snack, they might hand you a string cheese when you are desperately craving a bowl of cereal.

If you aren’t yet toilet trained, you have to spend a certain amount of time every single day sitting in your own pee and poop. You can’t go outside when you want some air. You can’t have ten minutes to yourself, because the adults are afraid you’ll eat a toy or fall down the stairs. You get to lie down and get some rest only when one of those grownups decides that it’s time.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Why not just ask for what you want?,” you sniff.

But toddlers can’t do that. In the first place, they most often don’t have the language to express the subtleties. My little grandson, at the tender age of 2, can tell me, “Me hungry.” But he can’t say, “I’m feeling a little run down. Maybe I need some protein.” He can’t say, “I’m not actually physically hungry, but I need a little taste boost. How bout some popcorn?”

Nope. He can’t yet get past, “Me hungry. Have a cereal bar?” I might say yes, but more often I’ll say “no” because his Mom and I are trying to be careful about sugar consumption. I might offer him a cracker or an apple.

At this point, he is likely to have a bit of a meltdown. Remember, he is hungry, and has physical feelings that he can’t recognize or understand. And even if he did, he can’t articulate it.

And even if he COULD tell me, “I am craving something sweet and filling,” he doesn’t have the power to make that happen. He has to depend on me to understand him and to grant his request.

Yeesh. That never happens to adults.

So language is one huge obstacle that toddlers face every single day. But the stresses of human interactions are even harder.

If you have ever spent more than 4 minutes with a couple of toddlers, you have heard dozens of variations on “That’s not fair.”

It might happen when the kids decide to play with a bunch of trolls. “But I WANT the one with the pink hair!” will be met with “But I got the pink hair troll FIRST!!!!” As the adult in charge, you are very very likely to respond with something like, “But there are 64 trolls in the basket.” or “You need to learn to share the pink haired troll.”

I’m pretty sure that what the toddlers hear is this: “You can’t have what you want. You have to give up your dream.” The toddler, at the tender age of three, does not think “big picture”. He does not think, “I can always get the pink hair later.”

Nope.

If your entire life is only 30 months long, you don’t have the same sense of time perspective that all those frowny grownups have. What happens right now is all that exists for these little guys.

It’s an incredibly frustrating thing for adult caregivers to mediate. I get it. Here’s an example of a real life experience in my house this week, when three toddlers were having a snack.

“Can I have popcorn?”

“I want popcorn, too!”

“Can I have cereal? No want popcorn.”

Nonni dishes out the snacks.

“No, I wanted the yellow bowl!”

“But I want the yellow bowl! That’s my favorite color!”

“No, it’s MY favorite color!”

“Me don’t want cereal. Want popcorn. Inna yellow bowl.”

Naturally, Nonni tried to mediate this situation, pointing out that the popcorn would taste the same no matter what color the bowl happened to be.

The kids, because they are kind and well meaning, went along with it. But once again, I think the world must have felt just a bit out of their control.

If you spend time with children in this age group, you will know that nearly every conversation includes some kind of negotiation. Every interaction includes a decision about what to play (“Want to play Elsa and Anna?} as well as who will play which role (“I am Elsa.” “No, I want to be Elsa! You are Anna!”) . Every interaction includes some sharing of materials. (“I’m using this playdoh shape!” “But I NEED that shape!”}

And you know that every ten minutes or so (if you are a very lucky caregiver), someone has to scream out loud that someone else is hitting/grabbing/yelling/ignoring/refusing/arguing/wrecking everything.

As an adult, this feels ridiculous, stupid, pointless and endlessly repetitive.

But you know what?

As a small, powerless, tender little being who spends all day trying to learn the rules, find the words, gain some control and still be loved, these interactions are the biggest thing in life.

I have one example to share with you from my day today.

My grandson, only two years and 5 months old, played all morning with a four year old friend. They argued, screamed, played, laughed, fought, argued and yelled.

The friend went off to preschool, and my four year old granddaughter came home. Now my little guy was put in the position of negotiating with a whole new big kid. A big kid with different ideas, different needs and different words than the one who had been here all morning.

At one point, my grandson argued with his sister and ended up scratching her. She shrieked. I approached. I told him that he couldn’t hurt anyone, and I told him to go to the “time out” chair.

Now, this wasn’t his first trip to the chair, and he usually sits quietly for one minute and expresses his remorse.

This time, though, little Johnny burst into tears and collapsed onto the floor. He was sobbing, so I went to him. He leaned his forehead against mine, and put his arms around my neck. Through his tears, he whispered, “How bout if you just rock me instead, Nonni? Me so so tired.”

So I did.

And it made me think about the long, stressful day that this sweet little boy had put in up to that point.

All I could think was that toddlerhood is a pretty tough row to hoe.

It ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.

Dear Christmas Charities


Dear various groups of needy children, hospital patients, veterans, abandoned pets, sick nuns, lonely old people and lost souls.

I understand that we have entered the season of giving.

Believe me, I give.

I shop regularly at Unicef Market, where everything I buy provides food, water and medicine to kids around the world. I donate to my local food bank and to programs for homeless folks in my community. I really do try to be as generous as I can to as many causes as I can.

But here’s where I absolutely draw the line and will not cough up one single tiny coppery penny.

If you send me an unsolicited envelope full of swag, and then expect me to “donate” as a way of paying for it, you can just fuggedaboudit.

Want to see what I got in the mail today, along with a fake letter from a little child supposedly named “Joseph”? I got this:

I will not name this “charity,” but it is supposed to be raising funds for children in need. According the enclosed paperwork, the money is desperately needed for the education, shelter and care of these young ones.

M’Kay…..so why did they spend the money to send me a dreamcatcher, three notepads, a set of Christmas stickers, a page of return address labels, a pen, a page of Christmas gift tags, four Christmas cards (individually wrapped) and a freakin’ pair of kids gloves?

ALL of it wrapped in cellophane, decorated, and packaged along with 5 pages of paperwork and the “letter” from Joseph.

It makes me sick.

In order to actually raise money for these kids (if in fact there are any kids), the organization would need to offset the costs of all of this swag, plus the printing, plus the postage.

I estimate that my package alone cost in the area of five dollars. I’d have to donate six for them to get any profit, right?

But if they sent our one package to every household on my street, that would be 20 houses for $100. I know that one house is empty, so that’s a loss. I believe that most people toss out junk mail, so perhaps 10% would send in a donation.

If they are that lucky, and 10% donate ten bucks, they break even.

But if they just sent the information, and maybe a link to a website, that same $100 donation would give them a good return, right?

So why do these groups do this? Why do they send out huge packages of unwanted stuff to complete strangers around the country?

Because of guilt.

They are relying on the fact that most people are good and decent and don’t want to take something without giving back. They are counting on the idea that enough of us will think, “Gosh, a pair of gloves! And all these pretty stickers! I need to send them at least something…..”

Not this wise old woman. I am not falling for that trick.

Instead, I will keep every one of the unsolicited goodies and will put them to good use.

Then I’ll take the estimated value, add in a donation amount, and send the money to Unicef.

Halloween Heartache


When the kids were little, I loved Halloween. I loved decorating the house with scary witch cut-outs and pretend ghosts. I loved the excitement, the weeks of costume planning, the favorite candy discussions.

I loved….I really loved, carving pumpkins. And cooking the seeds.

I loved making Halloween treats like marshmallow witches and “ghosts in the graveyard” cake. The look of joy, excitement, and even slight fear in the eyes of all of the kids was a reminder to me, every year, that magic is real. Magic does happen.

When a shy six year old puts on a big hat and his Dad’s old shirt, he feels as if he has been magically transported into a world where everything is possible. When serious, strict teachers show up in the classroom dressed as light-up jellyfish, when tired parents put on silly wigs and clown makeup, that is magic. Children see that magic. They breathe it. They embrace it as only children can.

I’ve always loved the magic of Halloween.

As a child, I loved the planning and scheming that started in late winter and carried us all the way to October. I loved walking through the suddenly-spooky streets of my neighborhood. I loved the candy, but mostly I loved the idea of becoming someone else on that special night.

As a mother, I loved watching my three children filled with the tingling sensations that came with walking our safe streets at dusk. I loved seeing their faces light up at the sight of a neighbor’s jack-o-lantern in the window. I loved watching them feel powerful or beautiful or magical, just because of a bit of makeup or a piece of clothing.

As a teacher, I adored Halloween. The week before was filled with animated conversations about costumes. We’d spend most “morning meetings” planning our classroom party, choosing a song list, planning our games. We’d read about the history of Halloween traditions. Everything felt slightly more relevant and more intense than our regular history lessons.

Math facts and spelling rules faded into the background, where most of us felt they belonged.

And the day itself, the day of Halloween, was pure magic.

I have such clear memories of teaching a science lesson while wearing a tall black witch hat; few memories make me smile more than the image of myself nodding my head for emphasis and realizing that my witch hat was tapping me on the nose. The kids and I must have belly laughed for a full two minutes.

I miss that.

I miss the magic. I miss the transformation that comes so easily to children who put on a disguise. I miss watching how easily those children moved from shy, insecure little ones to all powerful super heroes just by putting on a cape.

I miss standing in the doorway of my house, handing out candy and expressing my delight at every adorable ghost and every terrifying 7 year old monster.

Today is Halloween.

It is a rainy, windy, strangely warm day here in Massachusetts. I spent the day with my two toddler grandchildren, eating healthy foods and watching Halloween videos. We made silly paper ghosts, played with playdoh, pretended to be various super heroes. Every hour or so, my little two year old grandson would shake and clasp his hands together:

“I so excited to go out Halloweening!”

His four year old sister kept asking how long it would be until they could go out to get the candy.

We had a sweet day.

But as it ended, and my daughter and son-in-law came to get the kids, the magic faded for me.

My husband and I have gone with our grandkids to Trick-or-Treat for the past three years. Every year, they join their friends, young parents we’ve known for all of their lives, and everyone has a wonderful time going to door to door in our small town, where every face is familiar.

The first year after our granddaughter was born, joining them was automatic: Of COURSE we’d want to be part of it all! The second year was the same. On the third Halloween, our sweet little grandson had been added to the family, and we wanted to be with him.

But at last reality has hit us.

We are no longer the Trick or Treat generation. We are the people who stand at the door to hand out the treats. We are too tired to try to find yet another costume. We are too tired to walk the streets at the end of a long day. Our doctors have cautioned us about eating all that sugar. Our back are too sore to carry tired kids home at the end of the night. The end of the night bath is so far beyond our energy level that we can’t even think about it.

It’s all good. It’s all correct. It’s all exactly as it should be.

I’m very happy that I can stay in my dry living room tonight. I’m delighted that I can put some ice on my sore back and pour a glass of wine and stay here with a good book.

But at the very same time, at the very same moment, my heart is breaking. I can still remember how much I loved washing the makeup off of the faces of the kids I loved so very much.

Life goes on.

And it leaves some heartache behind.

The Eye of the Beholder


It was a day today. Just a normal day.

It was a Sunday, in northern Massachusetts, in the last week of October.

It rained all day and the wind kept sweeping back and forth across our yard, seemingly intent on scrubbing away all signs of summer.

The yellow leaves swirled through the air like dancers and the newly empty trees bowed to the left and to the right.

I sat in my comfy rocker with a blanket on my knees. I watched the weather and smiled.

It was perfect.

Like every other adult in the world today, my days are packed with responsibilities. Taking care of my grandchildren and one of their friends, shopping, cooking, entertaining friends, helping to look after my elderly Mom, dealing with two young and energetic dogs……

All of it is good and all of really does bring me joy.

But I am exhausted. I’ve spent the past ten days or so fighting off a visit to the doctor. Refusing to go on medications that make me feel worse than I did before. The nose is stuffy, the lungs are wheezy, the aches are chasing the pains across my spine and I have a mystery foot ailment that has me limping like an old sailor.

I needed one day to myself.

And my dear friend, Mother Nature, has complied. It is cold. It is too rainy to work in the yard. Too cold to clean the garage. I had some new friends here for dinner last night, so there is no need clean anything.

Today has been spent reading a very cool mystery novel (The Nowhere Child). It has been spent sipping tea and eating mini cannolis brought by our friends. Dogs have been snoozing on my lap.

Even my workaholic husband has been reading, snoozing and playing games on his phone.

Perfect.

As I sit here now, I am looking out at a gray, dreary dusk. The rain pours down. The wind keeps blowing.

As I sit here, the light of my house shines in contrast to the cold night ahead. I am safe. I am sitting. I gaze out into the golden glow of the leaves that remain on our beech and oak trees. I can see the last bright sign of life from our “Burning bush”. I know that winter is heading our way.

But all will be well.

Because every now and then, a day will come when my body tells me to simply sit down and shut up. I’ll pour some hot herb tea, grab a good book, and fold the fuzzy blanket over the dog on my lap.

Life is good. Especially when we don’t expect it to be.

Please Help Me, I’m Losing Myself


I am turning into a 1950s wife. I am almost Harriet Nelson (Google it, kids).

I was born in 1956, when women wore dresses and pearls while making dinner for Dad and the kids. I was born in a time when Mom’s stayed home and scrubbed the floor while Dads went off to the office to do manly things.

Which means that I grew up in the 1960s, when women were burning bras and demanding birth control. I went to college in the 1970s. I marched, I read Gloria Steinem, I became a feminist.

When I married my high school sweetheart, we both went into the relationship with the understanding that we would be equals. We shared the shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the laundry duty. We both went to graduate school, and we both embarked on professional careers. We were a part of the generation that defined the idea of work-home balance. We both worked. We both cleaned bathrooms. We both took the car in for inspections.

When our kids came along, the pressure to keep that balance increased exponentially. With both of us working, there were lots of frantic early morning near-fights, with both of us whisper-shouting behind our bedroom door,

“I CAN’T STAY HOME TODAY! I have a meeting….” “Your turn to take him to the doctors! I cannot miss another staff meeting!”

There were nights where dinner was a frozen pizza, too, but those were few and far between. I might have been a feminist professional, but I was also an Italian Mamma. I cooked. But he cleaned it up. For 37 years, we kept up our balance. We both worked. We both raised our kids. We were a team, and we were equal.

Then the kids grew up. They moved out. If you can believe the audacity, they all set out on lives of their own.

Paul and I kept working and sharing the home chores. The balance that we’d established held its shape and all was well.

Until I suddenly and very unexpectedly found myself retired from my many years of teaching elementary school. That’s a different story and has no real relevance here. Except that my unceremonious departure from teaching set me on a totally new path that has had few little bumps. My forced retirement, very very luckily for me, coincided with my new life as a grandmother.

I left teaching in June, a month before my daughter gave birth to our first grandchild. And I was given a huge, unexpected, glorious gift. I got to be the stay-at-home woman taking care of the baby.

As “Nonni”, I was able to stay at home on cold rainy days, snuggling a baby and baking muffins. As a retired teacher, I was able to wrap the baby and myself in a warm blanket and listen to good music while it snowed outside our window. As the stay at home caregiver, I had no more commute, no more paperwork, no more meetings, no more conferences and best of all, no more forced ‘professional development’. I was free. At last, at the age of 59, I was free to indulge my nurturing, caring self and just sit around rocking a baby. It was fabulous.

And it mostly still is. Except that now there are two grandchildren, ages 2 and 4. And now there is a messier house. And more food to be cooked, served, cleaned up.

Now I find myself preoccupied with things that I never ever noticed in my first 37 years of marriage. In my first 60 years of life, in fact. I can’t stop organizing drawers and closets. Yesterday I moved my socks and underwear drawer into a new spot, switching it out with my jewelry and random sundries drawer. It felt good to do it, even though I know that after more than 3 decades of everything in one place, I’ll be dead before I remember what I’ve put where.

I am spending a ridiculous amount of time cleaning things, too. I mean, if we have managed to live happily for all these years with crud in the bottom of our deck slider, why do I have to scrape it out every week now? Why? Why am I vacuuming the windowsills? And why am I compelled to make new recipes? Complete with dessert? Every friggin’ night? What the hell.

I even have matching cloth napkins and tablecloths now. And what’s even worse? I love them.

So please, dear fellow women of a certain age. Please help me. At the point in my life where I thought I’d be wearing funky black hats and writing poetry, I am scrubbing bathroom sinks and buying scented soap. I have lost my hippy, feminist self. God help me, I have turned into a 1950s housewife.

The Quid Pro Quo Problem


Donald Trump and his good buddies seem to be having a really hard time figuring out how to address the question of whether or not there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine situation. I mean, its kind of amusing to watch them bouncing around trying to figure how to talk about it.

There was no quid pro quo!

Trump has said it, Giuliani has said it, Mulvaney, Sondland, Pence. They’re all saying it.

Until they get confused and say something entirely different. Something along the lines of “Sure we refused to give Ukraine any money until they did what we wanted. We do that all the time!”

But “There was no quid pro quo!”

The problem, of course, is that the phrase ‘quid pro quo’ means “The giving of one valuable thing for another.”

Why are the Trumpsters having such trouble with this phrase?

I have a thought about that.

I think it goes something like this:

Bring me my quid pro quo!

There’s Donald, seated behind the “resolute desk”, seething and stewing about Hillary’s emails and Pelosi’s walkout. He grinds his teeth, glances up at the TV, then hits the call button on his desk.

“Bring me my quid pro quo!”, he snarls.

“Sir?” the befuddled secretary asks.

“My quid pro quo! Bring it to me! I’m pretty sure it’s in my sock drawer.”

“But…..”

“Just do it!”

A hasty conversation ensues between the frantic secretary and the Acting Chief of Staff. Mulvaney enters the Oval.

“Mr. President,” he begins.

“I want my quid pro quo. I heard that many past Presidents have refused to use theirs. I heard that some people say you can’t use it. But I’m gonna use mine!! I want my quid pro quo. I’m gonna use that thing so much, like the world has never seen! It’s made gold, right?”

“Ah….well, see, it isn’t actually an object, sir. A quid pro quo is a Latin phrase. I think it means something about withholding food from foreign guests.”

“That’s it! We’ll quid pro quo the shit out of them!!! We invite Shifty Schiff and Screamin’ Nancy over for dinner, and then……bam!!! We refuse to give them cake!!!”

“Sir, I don’t…….”

“We’ll see who wins the quid pro quo then, won’t we?”

He gleefully rubs his hands together.

Mulvaney walks out, scratching his head and muttering, “no, it means foreign guests……”

An hour later, Rudy Giuliani appears on CNN, his beady little eyes darting left and right as he waits for Chris Cuomo to introduce him.

When Cuomo asks about the quid pro quo, Giuliani starts to spit out words as fast as he can think of them.

“Here’s the thing, here’s the thing, why aren’t we looking into the DNC and what they did and Joe Biden and Hunter, here’s the thing, there was no quid pro quo! There was golf and there was talking about it, great talking, talking and it was on the phone, and yes, why aren’t we investigating Crooked Hillary because she probably asked the Ukrainians to hide her own quid pro quo, who by the way, was here illegally while golfing with Bill Clinton and anyway, everyone had cake!”

Cuomo looks immediately outraged and begins to shout over Giuliani which makes the little lawyer twitch and spit.

It made the rest of us turn off the set and pour a drink.

I wish this story seemed a little more farfetched.

“Company” is Coming


Quick! Dust that shelf!

When I was a young adult, I felt completely comfortable coming home to my parent’s place. It was the house where I’d grown up. One bedroom was “mine”. I knew where the dishes were kept, where the good Scotch waited, where the extra towels were kept.

Coming in the door was coming home. Just like I’d done about a million times before. Key in lock, door pushed open, “Hi, Ma!” as I came up the stairs into the kitchen.

Home.

But gradually, as the years went by, “home” became the apartment where Paul and I lived. It became the house we rented when our first child was born. Then the house we bought to raise all three of our children.

Visits to my parents house became visits.

I realized that my parents would plan special meals for our visits. They’d put on a tablecloth. I started to ask permission to have a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream.

I was a guest, in my own home.

Weird, but cool. I felt like a real adult.

I never wondered how that felt to my folks, though.

Then my kids grew up. They moved away. They all have lives. My daughter lives only a half a mile away and brings her kids here every day for me to care for while she and her husband are working. So she still feels pretty comfortable here, and has no worries about opening the fridge for a snack.

But my sons live two hours away, and we only see each other every couple of months.

When they come home, I notice that they are happy to grab themselves a beer, or toss a load of laundry into the machine. They seem to feel like this is still more or less “home”.

But something bizarre has happened to me, the momma.

It’s scary and it’s weird. Me no likies.

Yesterday our son Matt and his fiancee were planning to come for dinner. We haven’t seen them for a bit, and I was looking forward to catching up. I did what any self respecting Italian Momma would do. I shopped, I baked, I roasted, I sauteed.

But I also cleaned the kitchen. I threw the trash and washed the can. I cleaned the bathroom and put out new soap. I adjusted the sofa pillows and swept the floor. I vacuumed the steps.

As I was washing the doggie nose prints off the living room window, I suddenly stopped, vinegar soaked rag in hand. “What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Did I seriously just clean the toilet for the kid who I potty trained in this very room?”

I shook my head at my foolishness, gave myself a little smack, and went back to cleaning the windows.

Then I straightened up the pinecones on my shelf and changed the batteries in all the Halloween lights.

My kids are “company”.

Holy crap. Time must be flying.